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What You Should Know During a Police Traffic Stop

August 21, 2014

What You Should Know During a Police Traffic Stop

Police Car with blue lights on

If you are like most people, when you see a police car in your rear view mirror some level of anxiety will surface. Here are just a few tips that may help you should the blue lights come on:

As soon as you see the “blue lights”

  1. Slow down and pull over to the right as quickly as possible, but not so quickly that the officer has to slam on the brakes.
  2. Roll down your window and turn off your car.
  3. Do NOT start looking for your license or registration until the officer asks. If a police officer sees you moving around in your car, they may suspect you are hiding something or reaching for a gun.
  4. Let the officer speak to you first. The officer is likely to ask you a question that might imply guilt. Example: “do you know why I stopped you?”. The best answer would be “no”. Anything you say can be used against you. So, the less you say at this moment the better.

Can they search my car?

As a general rule, a police officer cannot search your vehicle.  They may often ask for permission and you are within your rights to say “no”; However, if the officer reasonably suspects that you are armed and dangerous then they can frisk you. If the police officer has probable cause that you have violated the law, they may search your car.

Probable cause may exist if they see contraband, smell contraband, or you admit to the presence of such.  Probable cause does not exist just because you have been pulled over for speeding or some other minor violation of the law.

Things to consider to avoid being the one getting pulled over

Under Tennessee law, if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that you have violated any law then the police officer can initiate a police traffic stop. It doesn’t matter if the officer’s real reason for stopping you is for some entirely different reason other than the law he suspects you of violating.

For instance, if you are driving 2 miles per hour in excess of the posted speed limit along West End Avenue in Nashville at 2:00 am, you are likely to get pulled over for speeding and the next question will be “how much have you had to drink tonight?”.

Individuals may feel they are being targeted because of their race or their young age, but if they fail to wear their seat belt or even failed to signal a lane change they may have provided the justification for the stop.

Here are just a few more things to consider:

  1. Never drive with expired tags, headlamps, or taillights that are not functioning properly.
  2. Take off the over 21 armband and be sure to clean off the hand stamps if you have been out at an event or nightclub. The presence of a hand stamp or wristband is certainly going to lead the officer to suspect alcohol use.
  3. Keep your car registration and proof of insurance together where you can easily find it if asked to produce them. Stumbling around looking for those items can give a police officer an allegation that you are intoxicated.
  4. Never have any alcoholic drinks in your console or leave empty alcohol containers in your car. Having an empty alcohol container in plain view will certainly lead the police officer to suspect you have been drinking.
  5. If you do get arrested and you feel that you have not violated the law, do NOT resist in any way. It is against the law to resist arrest in Tennessee even if you were not validly arrested in the first place.
  6. Know your family and friends’ phone numbers.  With the use of cellphones, many don’t know a number to call without their phone and if you are in jail, you won’t have access to a cellphone.